Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Rashied Davis.....none of those players strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators. It is a solid group of role players, but they are just that, role players. Chicago is still in need of a tall wide receiver that can serve as the top dog. Somebody with the ability to go up and get the jump ball, make the over-the-middle grab and be a big red-zone target.
There are plenty of tall wide receivers in the upcoming draft, but unless any are named Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss, it's going to take some time for them to develop. WR is one of the hardest positions for players to transition into from the college game. There are too many reads to make, too many routes to run and too many good players in the opposing secondaries. Most rookies need three years before becoming accustomed to the pro game.
So free agency would be a good place for Jerry Angelo to look for the No. 1 pass catcher. The current labor negotiations make the waters a little murky here: four-year veterans may not have to wait until their sixth year to become unrestricted free agents; franchise tags could be eliminated; and the market may not open up for months. Yet here are 10 wideouts Chicago should be targeting once the free agency period begins.
Rice is the ideal fit. He would immediately make the offense substantially better. The 24-year-old is 6-4, 202-pounds and has shown elite play making ability. He caught 82 passes for 1,312 yards and 8 TDs in 2009, and the hip injury that kept him out for most of last season is now fully recovered. The Vikings still could tag him, and he'll cost a pretty penny, but he could be the long-term solution.
Breaston was extended a tender offer yesterday, but that looks to be a formality. He'll most likely test the free agent waters. His game is similar to that of Knox, so he may not be the best option at flanker, yet he's shown great ability in the slot and has always produced when given the opportunity. If Hester's role in the offense is reduced, Breaston would be a good replacement.
Floyd is a good receiver who can be dominant when wants to be. At 6-6, 225-pounds, he has the perfect size to play flanker. He never developed into an elite receiver even with seven years of Phillip Rivers at the helm, and he's far too fragile, but he would give Cutler the big target he needs near the end zone.
The games of Smith and Bennett are very much alike, but Smith is much better. At only 25-years-old, he's developing into one of the best possession receivers in the game. He was hurt for half of last year but his 2009 stats show what he's capable of: 107 receptions, 1,220 yards, 7 TDs.
Edwards has fallen back to Earth since his amazing 2007 season (80 receptions, 1,289 yards and 16 TDs) but much of that has had to do with the guys throwing to him. He still drops too many passes but he showed last year he can still make big plays. Given the right circumstance with a talented QB throwing to him, he could become a No. 1 receiver again.
New York offered Holmes the largest possible qualifying contract offer this morning, a first- and third-round tender. Yet there are plenty of teams who would overpay to have him, and the Bears could be one of those. It won't surprise me if he still tests the market. He is fast, quick, has great hands and is still improving. He's the same player as Hester, but much better.
Jones has all the talent in the world but just can't hang on to the ball. It has been said it's a concentration issue, not due to bad hands. If he can get that resolved, he could turn into something special. He's shown good play making ability, has decent size (6-1, 208) and may not cost too much. Chicago could do worse.
Just when everyone thought he was washed up, Owens exploded last year. With the underwhelming Carson Palmer throwing to him, he amassed 72 catches for 983 yards and 7 touchdowns. Not bad for a 37-year-old who, by his standards, has been on his best behavior the past few seasons. It might be worth the risk to see if he's got one more good year left in him.
He's fragile and disappears for weeks at a time, yet he's also talented near the end zone. Despite being a part of an anemic passing game, Sims-Walker caught 7 TDs each of the past two seasons. He's 6-2, 214-pounds. Pairing him up with Cutler could be just the thing he needs to take the next step.
The Chargers placed the franchise tag on Jackson, but if the new CBA eliminates tags, one of the elite receivers in the league would hit the market. He is a head case that will cost a lot of money, which could scare off Bears' brass, but at 6-5, 230-pounds, he'd be just what the doctor ordered.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.